Cities lead way in global fight against climate change

From Athens to Yokohama, metropolises around the world have been making real progress in reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Jakarta C40
An aerial view of Jakarta, one of the cities in the C40 network. Metropolises have been leading the charge in fighting climate change, collectively making thousands of pledges to cut down on their emissions. Image: Shutterstock

Cities, home to more than half the world’s population and accounting for more than 60 per cent of global carbon emissions, have been taking unprecedented action in fighting climate change.

According to a new report released by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), a network of cities founded in 2005 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, urban centres have collectively committed to reduce their carbon emissions by 3 billion tonnes by 2030, equivalent to the annual carbon output of India.

Decisions taken by global cities to invest in low-carbon development over the next 15 years also have the potential to prevent a combined 45 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released, or eight times the total current annual emissions of the United States.

The C40 comprises 82 of the world’s biggest cities – including New York, London, Tokyo, Lagos, Mumbai, Mexico City, and Jakarta – representing over 600 million people and one quarter of the global economy.

The group started when former London mayor Ken Livingstone convened representatives from 18 cities to find ways to lower emissions. 

The 128-page report was released a week before thousands of political and business leaders are due to convene in Paris for the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 meeting, will take place from November 30 to December 11.  It is the biggest conference on climate change since the failed discussions at the same UN summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

In the report released on Monday titled ‘Climate Action in Megacities 3.0’ – the third edition  – , the group said its member cities have doubled their climate actions in the six years since the Copenhagen meeting, and committed to reduce their carbon emissions by 3 billion tonnes by 2030, equivalent to the annual carbon output of India.

Previous surveys were done in 2011 and 2013. C40 said the report is the world’s most extensive quantitative study of climate action taken by cities, and demonstrates the ability of mayors to share knowledge across geographic, political and economic boundaries. 

Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and head of Bloomberg Philanthropies, one of the three funders of the project, said: “We’re in better shape going into Paris than we were going into Copenhagen largely because of the progress cities have made, and C40 cities have helped lead the way,” said 

The other two financiers are Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, a UK-based group that focuses on helping poor children in developing countries, and Realdania, a Danish private association that supports philanthropic projects in architecture and planning.

The report, co-written with Arup, the UK-based built environment consultancy, analysed actions reported by 66 cities across 50 action areas in twelve sectors “Climate action” is defined as the measures and initiatives cities take to reduce the severity of climate change (mitigation), or their exposure to the effects of climate change (adaptation). 

Sectors of city climate action include: adaptation, buildings, community-scale development, energy supply, finance, food & agriculture, mass transit, outdoor lighting, private transport, waste and water.

These projects not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also increase the liveability of cities, and include installing energy-efficient LED streetlights, building bus rapid transit lines, offering incentives for building trofits, and financing waste-to-energy projects.

About 30 per cent of climate action measured by the report was a result of city-to-city collaboration, C40 said. The cities are also financing 70 per cent of city-wide action on their own and report a sizeable investment of US$2.8 billion in 450 projects where data on costs was provided.

Some observers have pointed out that cities have done far more than nations in the fight against climate change. For example, 935 cities have pledged climate-related commitments to the UN’s Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) database, an online portal that functions as a central clearinghouse on climate-related commitments by all entities other than national governments.

By mid-November, the NAZCA portal listed some 6,652 such pledges, with nearly 1,800 global companies and more than 400 major investors also having stepped up with formal commitments.

“If cities can work together to tackle climate change, nations can too,” said C40 chair and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes.

“By demonstrating the ambition, scale and impact of urban climate action, Climate Action in Megacities 3.0 should provide hope to the world and a backbone to the climate negotiators assembling in Paris this month to agree on a new, universal climate change accord.”          

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